‘Outside were the protests. Inside we were fighting to save her’

Bruised,bleeding and drifting in and out of consciousness,she only had a single piece of cloth wrapped around her shivering frame against the winter night.

Written by Pritha Chatterjee | Published: December 15, 2013 3:12 am

It was around 11 pm on December 16,2012,that the 23-year-old was wheeled into the busy Safdarjung Hospital emergency. Bruised,bleeding and drifting in and out of consciousness,she only had a single piece of cloth wrapped around her shivering frame against the winter night. Green curtain screens were immediately pulled around her bed,and she was wrapped in hospital sheets by nurses,as the first of the doctors rushed in.

The Delhi gangrape victim would stay in that hospital for 11 days,before being shifted to Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

A year later,the doctors haven’t forgotten “the girl”. “It was the X-ray that first alerted us to the extent of the assault. We did a basic abdominal X-ray and were shocked because we could not find her gut. I could not imagine what had happened to her intestines. I remember wondering if the machine needed repairs or if I was going blind,” a doctor who was among the first to examine her recalled. The X-ray showed that she had barely two-three inches of intestines against the normal female adult intestines of about 20-22 feet.

Senior surgeons were called,and she was rushed into surgery for an examination of her internal wounds. At the end of the three-hour-long procedure,lasting till 2 am on December 17,they realised that the victim’s intestines had been pulled out in the assault.

Repeating her initial assessment from then,of this case being “so much more than a rape”,a senior gyanecologist at the hospital says,“In rape,even gangrape cases,at the most we see genital tears. Even those are very serious debilitating injuries. But such a case where the patient’s entire gut was pulled out we had never seen,even though we have one of the largest gynaecology departments.”

Doctors would perform five surgeries on the victim in all to prevent infections. “It was a tremendous effort… and that is why it left such a void when we couldn’t save her life,” says Medical Superintendent B D Athani.

Doctors also remember her fighting spirit. “She was alert within a couple of hours of the first surgery,asked about her mobile phone and credit cards,” a nurse recalls.

The girl recorded her statement before a magistrate twice,giving detailed accounts. “The second time her statement was recorded,her condition had started deteriorating. She had a severe blood infection and jaundice,and was on respiratory support. We were angry because police requested that they wanted her to repeat her harrowing tale because of some disagreement between them and the government,” an anaesthetist recalls.

The team of 10-12 doctors who treated her also talk about other details,like how she wrote “one-two line notes” for her family when she felt too weak to speak,how tightly she held her mother’s hand as she slept,and how “incredibly cooperative” she was when a police photographer and forensic specialists came in to gather evidence like bite marks.

“When the photographer came,I remember her mother got very frantic,but she asked her to calm down. She was so brave. When we engaged two psychiatrists to counsel her and her family,she was positive. She spoke about her physiotherapy training,” he adds.

On the night of December 25,when she suffered a cardiac arrest,they could get her heart beating only after two minutes of resuscitation. Nurses remember clutching each other,praying for her. “She never woke up after that. Her brain’s oxygen supply had been cut off for quite a while,and she was unconscious when she was flown to Singapore a day later,” an anaesthetist says. The preparations for shifting her to Singapore included organising two decoy ambulances and a photographer entering the ICU in a burqa to click her photograph for her passport.

“There was a movement outside the walls of this hospital,and here inside,we fought our own battle,encouraged by her resilience. When we could do nothing,we prayed,” says a nurse.

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